F. 1.—Disgraceful as the policy of Petronius seemed to Tacitus (under the inspiration probably of his father-in-law Agricola), it did actually secure for Britain several years of much-needed peace. Not till the months of confusion which followed the death of Nero [June 10, A.D. 68] did any native rising take place, and then only in Wales and the north. The Roman Army of Britain was thus free to take sides in the contest for the throne between Otho and Vitellius, of which all that could be predicted was that the victor would be the worse of the two [deteriorem fore quisquis vicisset]. They were, however, so much ahead of their date that, before accepting this alternative, they actually thought of setting up an Emperor of their own, after the fashion so freely followed in later centuries. Fortunately the popular subaltern [[Greek: hupostrategos]] on whom their choice fell, one Priscus, had the sense to see that the time was not yet come for such action, and sarcastically refused the crown. “I am no more fit,” he said, “to be an Emperor [[Greek: autokrator]]than you to be soldiers.” The army now proceeded to “sit on the fence”; some legions, notably the famous Fourteenth, slightly inclined to Otho, others to Vitellius, till their hesitation was ended by their own special hero, Vespasian, fresh from his Judaean victories, coming forward as Pretender. Agricola, now in command of the Twentieth, at once declared for him, and the other legions followed suit—the Fourteenth being gratified by the title “Victores Britannici,” officially conferred upon them by the Emperor’s new Pro-praetor, Petilius Cerealis.
F. 2.—We now enter upon the last stage of the fifty years’ struggle made by British patriots before they finally bowed to the Roman yoke. The glory of ending the long conflict is due to Agricola, whose praises are chronicled by his son-in-law Tacitus, and who does actually seem to have been a very choice example of Roman virtue and ability. The Army of Britain had been his training school in military life, and successive commanders had recognized his merits by promotion. Now his superiors gave him an almost independent command, in which he showed himself as modest as he was able. Thanks to him, Cerealis was able in A.D. 70 to end a Brigantian war (of which the inevitable Cartismandua was the “teterrima causa” now no less than twenty years earlier), and the next Pro-praetor, Frontinus, to put down, in 75, the very last effort of the indomitable Silurians. Yet another year, and he himself was made Military Governor of the island, and set about the task of permanently consolidating it as a Roman Province, with an insight all his own.
F. 3.—The only Britons yet in arms south of the Tyne were the Ordovices of North Wales, who had lately cut to pieces a troop of Roman cavalry. Agricola marched against them, and, by swimming his horsemen across the Menai Straits, surprised their stronghold, Anglesey, thus bringing about the same instant submission of the whole clan which through the same tactics he had seen won, seventeen years earlier, by Suetonius.